It pays to be a good ol’ boy (even if you’re a girl)

Because I’m not a boy and don’t like to think of myself as ol’, I’m not one the most likely candidate to set forth the value of a network of old boys. However, I am here to say that the “good ol’ boy network” is alive and well in the Grand Valley (although it is not completely composed of old boys). In our community, it is all about who you know (male or female, young or old). From job interviews to finding the best caterer to expanding your customer base, it is all about connecting with the right people.

We hear complaints about this aspect of our community. It can be hard for newcomers to break into the network. Someone with a fresh face and a innovative new idea to sell may not get a welcome reception. When I moved here, I felt put off by how some people were known and recognized, while others were not. As a newbie, the long lines at Main Street Bagels in the morning drove me nuts. I would steam with frustration at the glacier-moving pace at which coffee was delivered because many customers were greeted personally and frequently by name. How’s your day going, John? How was Ryan’s baseball game? Have your grandchildren arrived? All these nice questions take time – time in which I was hoping to get coffee.

But over the years I’ve acclimated and embraced our networked nature. We are a community that likes to know the names of our neighbors, business associates, and customers. I get it now: Go to the drive-thru at Starbucks if you don’t want to be engaged. At Main Street Bagels, they know the names of all the regulars, and most people prefer it that way. Businesses in this Valley pride themselves on their customer service – they know their loyal customers’ names and have a personal connection with them. Many local businesses rely on their network connections for their success.

A strongly networked community has advantages. There is an easy exchange of information if you know who to talk to. If you want to put on an event or organize a group, all you have to do is talk to the right people and things can be pulled together quickly and easily.

Let’s apply some analytics to this. A social network consists of individuals (or organizations) called “nodes,” connected by specific types of interdependency, such as friendship, financial exchange, knowledge, prestige, etc. Social networks can be either egalitarian or aristocratic. In an egalitarian network, all the nodes have an equal level of connection. In an aristocratic network, some nodes are more connected than others and become hubs of connectivity. This hub structure tends to grow more exaggerated as new nodes join with existing hubs in order to get connected to as many other nodes as possible. This sounds like our “good ol’ boy network” to me.

This can be good. In the various centers of activity in our community, there are hub people who can get you connected quickly. No need to try to reach everyone: Just connect (in a genuine way) to the hub people in your area of interest, and – presto! – you’re plugged in.

So what should you do to get connected? Get out and get active. Most of the hub people in our community play a leadership role of some sort in their fields. How do you do this? Volunteer. Participate. Organize something. If you want to start a mountain biking business, work on building local trails. If you love music, volunteer at KAFM. If you run a machine shop, join the Mesa County Manufacturer’s Council. There are always ways to help, and in doing so you’ll meet the people you need to connect with. That’s where they are, too – out making a difference.